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The Under-15 Boys head to North Carolina with high anticipation for their first National League season. Region III and Dallas Cup champion Sunrise Elite 97/98 (FL) lead the pack in the Blue Division as last year’s National Championship finalists. Bethesda Lions (MD) head the Red Division after claiming the Region I Championship but falling just short of the National title game.
Empire Revolution Buffalo (NY-W) will also look to contend for the Blue Division crown after bowing out of the Region I Championship semifinals to Bethesda by a 3-2 score, although a tough Region I Premier Leauge record means they'll need to find the consistency to navigate seven games of National League play. Midwest Regional League champion CUP Crew Jrs 97 (OH-S) and a group of State Championship teams also await Sunrise and Empire as the teams learn how to manage a slate where one off day can be the difference between a title and also-ran.
Region II semifinalists Libertyville FC 1974 (IL) and Region III quarterfinalists GSA 98 Phoenix Red (GA) and Pinecrest Premier (FL) look like the top challengers to Bethesda in the Red Division.
"The US Youth Soccer National League is great competition for us, that’s why we like it," said Bethesda SC Boys Director of Coaching John Colton. "In order to get into the National League you have to be one of the top teams in the country, so every game is meaningful and every game is important. It makes the travel and the amount of money we spend to travel worth it when we go places where we know we’re going to be playing other top teams in the country. We’ve really enjoyed it and Bethesda SC has participated in the league now for four years."
"The National League starts with getting competitive games, because that’s really how you develop as a soccer player. Our coaches provide them with good training, the next step is getting competitive games. And most of our kids want to play in college too. If you look at our U-18 roster, we have one of the best graduate classes of any club in the country, academy club or non-academy club. The National League has really helped expose our players to those college coaches. We look for that to happen as well with our U-15’s and U-17’s."
"It is very rare for these kids to go on to play professionally, but the National League is very well attended by college coaches, and I think the coaches find that they know they’re going to get good games, good teams and good players in the National League because you have to have a certain standard and level of play when they’re going to recruit at these events."
Sunrise Elite was storming toward a National Championship in 2012 as they claimed the Dallas Cup championship on their way to becoming Region III Champions. The Floridians went 3-0 with 10 goals scored in preliminary play at the National Championships, but after a scoreless final, Sunrise fell in a penalty shootout. The Sunrise attack is led by U.S. National Team pool member John Skahan, whose four goals at the Region III Championships and three at the National finals led the team. Jacobo Escobar and Frederick Gil will also factor into the offensive side, and Sunrise will need the contributions of National Championships Best XI honoree Daniel Ragoo to be successful in their first National League season.
Empire Revolution Buffalo’s run to a Region I Championship in 2012 came up a goal short in the semifinals, but the team will find out exactly where they stand on the second day of the league season as they meet up with Sunrise. Benjamin Noel led Empire with three goals at the Regional Championships while Region I ODP players Alex Cancilla and Frank Cotroneo will also have to play big roles.
Bethesda will be looking to get back to the National Championships after being left out of the big game last year. U.S. National Team pool member Juan Ramirez leads Bethesda along with with fellow Best XI awardee Alonzo Clarke . Ramirez’s four goals at the Region I Championships led the team while Francisco Contreras added three of his own.
Libertyville FC should be a factor in the Red Division after they advanced to the Region II Championships semifinals after going 3-0 with 11 goals scored and just three conceded in preliminary play.
Other Players to Watch:
Jose Antonio Cerra (CESA): Region III ODP player
Ryan Standridge (CESA): Region III ODP player
Casey Barone (Dix Hills Elite): Region I ODP player
James Contino (Dix Hills Elite): Region I ODP player
Gabriel Paniagua (Pinecrest): Region III ODP player